Having a blog to write can do very strange things to my reading. Sometimes I read with the blog in mind, perhaps looking for something to write about. Sometimes three or four things to write about pop into my mind effortlessly within just a couple of days, and then I try to hang on to the thoughts long enough to write all the posts. Travel causes even more problems in the timing. We traveled to London near the end of our European sojourn, and now I’m dealing with jet lag after our return to the States. I started The Vicar of Wakefield several days ago, but I’m only today getting a chance to write about it. So now I’m the position of trying to remember what I was thinking six or seven exhausting days ago.
I’m reading Goldsmith’s classic novel for the second time. I didn’t remember much from the first expereince except it being surprisingly entertaining. As a man of his times, Goldsmith wrote in the matter-of-fact, prosy style typical of the eighteenth century. And yet he finds a way to draw smiles, tears, and laughter from his reader. Part of his formula for success, I think, is writing a story that the average person can relate to. Who needs romantic adventure when every day shows us the drama inherent in a mundane life? The story of Dr. Primrose deals with money, children, marriage, fame, art, shopping, swindlers, conversations on religion and politics, and personal disaster. True to the spirit of the Age of Reason, the characters, good and bad, talk their way through these scenarios and analyze the best ways to deal with them. As a result, the reader, who already identifies with the vicar because his familiar life, thinks through the reasoning not just to follow the plot, but from personal interest as well.
None of this review of life would work, though, if the vicar were self centered or cowardly or foolish. Fortunately, Dr. Primrose is the opposite: thoughtful, determined, and wise. Granted, for all his wisdom, he does seem to get duped by a new con every other chapter. But he’s a lovable dupe whose readiness to hope for the best leads him to persevere, for instance, in preaching to his miserable fellow inmates in debtor’s prison, even when they don’t act as if they want to hear. Good advice, Dr. Primrose says, only bounces back from deaf ears and benefits the speaker, so speak anyway. (Aggh! Martina McBride’s in my head now!) But of course he does eventually earn the respect of his poor companions and finds in the end, like George Bailey, that no man is truly poor who has made friends, and that a life of open-hearted cheer really is a wonderful life.